Expanding the Scope of Schubertian Tonality
The Opus 90 Impromptus as the Stations of a Tonal Quest
Every once in a while one still encounters a piano student either playing or wanting to play the third impromptu of Schubert's opus 90, but bearing an edition in which it appears not in G♭ major but in the slightly heavenward transposition to G. Having to tell that student that the piece is really in G♭ always somewhat numbs their pleasure over the prospect of playing it. To what circumstances do we owe this faintly unpleasant necessity?
Schubert wrote out the four pieces that we know as the opus 90 impromptus in a single manuscript and first submitted them for publication in this form. Karl Haslinger initially published just the first two, the C minor and the E♭ major, late in 1827, himself providing the title for them. Only thirty years later were the other two pieces from the manuscript incorporated into a new edition of opus 90 by Karl's son Tobias, the fourth in its original A♭ major, but the third in this already mentioned levitation from G♭ to G. It is possible that it was simply the key, G♭ major, that originally impeded the publication of the third piece; at any rate, this key remained too idiosyncratic even in 1857 to go unchallenged. The G♭-major Impromptu is not merely Schubert's only instrumental movement in this key but one of the first pieces ever written in it. Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, for example, never wrote any. So why did Schubert?
Surely this question allows for no simple, fully explanatory answer. But as I have already strongly implied in Chapter 2, it finds an obvious partial one in the ending of the preceding piece. 1 Whether or not the second